Wednesday, June 9, 2021

My Summer Reading: New 2021 Books

 I am sorry that I have not managed visiting all of my favorite blogs recently. I hope to rectify this ASAP! And I mean it! 

It seems that my reading summer will be composed of very recently published books. That's how things are shaping up right now and how my interest is leading me. 2021 books rock!

Today I finished Stacey Abrams's suspense thriller While Justice Sleeps. I really enjoyed it, though I must confess that political thriller is not a genre I ever read. I was eager to read it because I think so highly of Stacey Abrams and her work for voting rights, and I followed her unfortunately failed bid to become governor of Georgia, and her unflagging work in the Democratic Party. So how intriguing, and how interesting is it that she had a suspense thriller on the burner--a labor of love for over 12 years, mind you--that was just published in early June?  I don't think my brain was totally prepared for all the twists and turns in this incredible novel, but I rode along with it all the same. It's on the bestseller list. And I will say that I read it because I admire Stacey Abrams so much, I was dying to see what her thriller was like. Recommended! 


 

Right now I'm in the midst of an acclaimed new Gothic thriller, Madam by Phoebe Wynne. I'm only 40 pages in, but I've been called, and Wynne is ingenious at unsettling the reader right from the first. The setting is northeast of Edinburgh, at an exclusive boarding school for girls, where nothing is right or as it should be. The young, naive protagonist is top of her game as a teacher of the Classics, but good teaching is not what is required of an instructor here. The setting of the school--it's set on a peninsula that juts out into the sea. Very Gothic. FUN. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Some Recent Faves from This Year's Reading List

 Back again--I'm really not sure what has made me such a sluggish blogger this year. I have been taking writing classes online, so that might be part of it. I'm happy to be able to go to the library again on a weekly basis, and so glad not to have to worry as much. 

I enjoyed a two-day trip to the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts in early May. On the way there, I had a wonderful first-time visit at The Clark Institute, a renowned art museum in Williamstown, the town that forms the rather mountainous northwest corner of Massachusetts. From there to Historic Deerfield, where I stayed. The weather was not good, so I followed my back-up plan to visit Webs, the yarn superstore in Northampton. My evening meals were lavish and filling, but it was sad to see that so many, many restaurants have closed their doors since Covid. It was extremely difficult to find places to eat breakfast and lunch, and most of the time I didn't. I was traveling solo and I'm accustomed to meeting people, but with Covid restrictions still in place, it was impossible. I think traveling solo will improve perhaps by summer, and hopefully by next fall. 

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: I started listening to this on audio, but quickly switched to hardcover. Definitely one of the two best books read this year, (Belonging by Nancy Thayer being the other best read), but oh, I don't know when I've cried so while reading. So many wonderful characters.

Warning! Spoiler Alert! Next paragraph for past readers of The Shell Seekers:

I simply must say that I found the death of Richard so painfully hard to take. I just couldn't accept it. It seemed so unfair, when Penelope and Richard had finally found some happiness and then... All of the deaths in this book were hard, I thought. I guess I was so swept up in the world Pilcher created--that it became almost like real life. 

Another great read was The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, which some of you may have read when it was making news after its publication in 2003 or so. I've always meant to read it and finally did. This one is a family saga, though principally about the son of Bengali immigrants to America. 

I read two novels entitled Dark Horses. This came about because I was searching for the 2021 Dark Horses by Susan Mihalic in the New York Public Library e-book catalog. At that time, the NYPL didn't have this new title, but I became curious about another book, a YA novel named Dark Horses. Both books have the setting and situations of young adult women and girls in the competitive world of equestrian show jumping, a sport I enjoy following, but each has different situations and themes. I recommend them both, but particularly Mihalic's, which I was able to get eventually from our local library. I wasn't sure about it when I discovered what it was about, an intense, abusive relationship between father (coach) and daughter, but I think the author did a great job. Follow the links for more info about these two books. 

I must confess I've read what has seemed like an awful load of mediocre books this year. For my birthday, I received the novel The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland (2004), set in British Columbia, about the artist Emily Carr.


 


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Still Reading Like Mad--Best Audio Listens So Far

 Several of my most engrossing reads of the year have been on audio. The penulitmate was probably Belonging by Nancy Thayer, which was a re-issue of one of her early novels published in the 1990s, set on Nantucket Island and in New York City. This novel was so good, so dynamic, so charged with meaning and psychological depth that I found it hard to believe that Nancy Thayer was the author. Let me explain: Her more recent novels are fun reads, but are nowhere near as accomplished as the emotional depth and sheer panache of Belonging.  

The two novels of Elin Hilderbrand's that I've listened to this year have both captivated me, though I will say that Silver Girl, which I finished on Saturday, is still resonating and has left me disturbed and perplexed. All the loose ends were not tidily wrapped up. Not at all, not for a single one of the characters. I'm not at all angry about this, but I'm coming to see it as a way for the characters to live on in my imagination, forcing me to conjure all sorts of future scenarios for each person. How skillfully rendered this ending was, in that respect!

Just yesterday late afternoon I started listening to The Shell Seekers by the late Rosamunde Pilcher and this will be a very long audio project because it's at least 500 pages, if not more. So far I'm trying to warm up to Penelope's daughters--love these flawed, uncertain, searching characters! I've been waiting to read this one for so many years, it seems. I've read Winter Solstice twice, and I'll read it many more times, but that's it.

Yes, all of these novels are meanly characterized as "women's fiction," a label that even in publishing, despite the fact that they rake in as much money as those on the "male" bestseller list, is definitely intended to demean the genre. But frankly, and I think I can declare this as a reader of so-called "classic literature," that the writing is no less skilled than that of any other genre, I am totally assured of that.  If one knows anything at all about literature, it's clear that each of these novels is the product of a skilled artisan, that is for sure.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Opening Up

 Yesterday the day was so deeply dark, and so rainy, that we decided to escape to a restaurant an hour away for a late lunch. I made sure I tired Sandy out beforehand, walking her up and down and all over so that she would bear being crated for about three and a half hours. Yes, Sandy is one of those dogs who is extremely anxious if she is not crated. She's as calm as can be in her crate when we're gone. We return home to a sleepy dog. And so food and loads of exercise for her, and off and away Ken and I went!

It was a late lunch, when few people in the very large restaurant were present. Our dining experience was stellar. The food was excellent--we each had a glass of wine and talked books a lot, our plans for the coming months, and politics a little. Just enjoying each other's company. What bliss, really.

I am becoming such a fan of Ann Cleeves. Years and years ago I read Raven Black, her first crime/mystery novel, and although I liked it, it was very, very dark, and when several other readers I know told me the next volume was even more grim, I moved on and did not continue with that series. Then, just last fall, I read her latest in another series of her books, the Vera Stanhope series, and was entranced. I love the way Ann Cleeves sets up scenes--so sharply, so clearly, and so distinctly that they become unforgettable so that they endure as I read on. This aspect reminds me of the scenes in the early novels of Elizabeth George (Lord Lynley novels).   Now I am reading a brand new series that Anne Cleeves has recently published in 2020. The first novel is The Long Call and it features Matthew Venn, a detective working in North Devon in England. Dear Reader, I started it at 6:30 am this morning and have read nearly 100 pages. SO GOOD. At least it hits all of my criteria for what a great crime novel should be, to my taste, that is.



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

 It has been so very, very long since my last post. I discovered or, rather, found myself with nothing to say about any book or any author or anything for the past few months. I have missed you all!

Ken and I are both finally fully vaccinated now. Our last dose was March 29th, and our fully immunized date was Monday, April 12th. We have both been out doing things we have not been able to, but it's a funny thing--after 14 months of being sequestered, it's been tricky getting back into the swing of the "outer world." Based on my experience on Tuesday, it may be a while before I feel comfortable going to all sorts of places! I'm amazed by that fact. How crazy, really.

BOOKS!!  Well, now that we have more freedom, I don't know how I'll be able to stop reading throughout the entire afternoon. I've become so accustomed to reading for hours that I don't see how I can stop. So for now I won't. I was so excited when Crandall Library opened totally, for 50 patrons at a time, all floors! I was so overwhelmed, so joyously happy, that I cried. I picked up my 5 holds, and found 5 more books easily, and then I had to leave. Stimulus-overload!

It's been a wonderful reading year so far. I had a slow start right after the New Year, but then me and books took off! 

A few highlights:  My most memorable book of this past year was Belonging by Nancy Thayer. I listened to the audiobook, which was a re-issue of a novel she published in the 1990s. It was absolutely unforgettable, searing, yet redemptive. Five stars.  Thayer's current novels are not as well-crafted, or as splendid. I like reading them, but this one from her earlier oeuvre was a tour de force. Set on Nantucket Island and New York City. I lived and breathed it, and I was so totally one with the experiences of the two women protagonists in this novel. I will never, ever forget it. Be prepared! It's a roller-coaster, but so worth the experience. 

I also loved the acclaimed English novelist Margaret Drabble's The Radiant Way, which is actually the first book in what turned out to be a trilogy, although not planned by Drabble at the time of the first publication. It is set in the early 1980s in England, in what came to be known as the Thatcher era. I do so love Dame Margaret Drabble's novels. And I'll look forward to reading the next installment. I own the trilogy, but always like to give myself "breathing room" between books in a series.

I so loved returning to Maisie Dobbs with the #6 in the series, Among the Mad. I heartened to this one much more than to #5, and it was a stunner. It's interesting, but no matter how the mystery goes down, or the crimes therein, there is something so comforting in these mysteries. The author is so keenly attuned, so empathetically attuned to what transpires that I feel wrapped in a warm embrace as I'm reading, despite the crimes and terrors within.


 





Friday, February 5, 2021

New Books on the Horizon

An update: I have a number of books in transit to my wilderness abode. And I have some at home I'm still reading. I'm nearing the end of Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (1998), a great saga of the early U.S. republic, set in northern New York State. Still enjoying it immensely. But I have 250 pages left to go.  I would have been well finished by this time (10 days), but I'm waist-deep in a number of writing projects, most relating at this time to family history research.



New Books in the House and Books in Transit:  I have purchased Land by Simon Winchester, and it's due to arrive on Monday at the post office. (Books take over 10 days to arrive these days, not as in days of yore, when books would arrive inside of three days. I miss that nearly instant gratification. Alas!) Amazon used to deliver to the house, but no longer, or not at present. We have Prime, we're paying for home delivery, but for what it's worth, it's evidently no longer worth home delivery. Have you had this experience since Christmas? (And what's the matter with me? Don't I know there's a war on?)

In January I received a shipment of two hardcover books that sound like they might hit the spot. The first is The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell, which I was stunned to learn was first published in the UK in October 2018. That's a huge publication gap! It's set in Victorian London and looks as though it will have plenty of mystery and atmosphere.  The second is a (new one-volume biography of Graham Greene, The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene by Richard Greene. I'm fascinated by GG's life, but found the older, standard three-volume biography a bit too much to manage. I hope to read more of Greene's novels and stories this year as well. 


 

Then I made an impulse purchase of a something new that's very gothicky. Couldn't help myself, and I had a credit waiting to be used, so I bought Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse, which has just been published.


 



 




 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Speaking of Chunksters...Some Great Historicals

 On Monday, I dove headlong into Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness, which is just a hair under 900 pages. Published in 1998, it's the first in a series of historical fiction set in a locale not far from my home, in the northern zone of what passes for the Mohawk Valley today (along the West Branch of the Sacandaga River). The novel begins in 1792, during George Washington's administration, as Elizabeth Middleton, recently transplanted from England, begins a new life with her father, a judge and patent landowner in the wilderness settlement of Paradise. She is a spinster at the age of 29, and is determined to open the first school in Paradise and to remain single. Until she meets Nathaniel Bonner, that is. Nathaniel is kin by marriage to the Mohican Native Americans. Lots of detail about Mohican culture and the clash of cultures in New York in this ear, but I won't elaborate, yet will suffice to say that this is an incomparable page-turner, very well-written, historically accurate, and think EPIC SAGA! If this book sounds familiar, I did mention the book in the tour of my bookshelves last winter. Finally, finally I'm reading it. I heartily recommend and am now 300 pages in.

In December, I was truly thrilled to read Ken Follett's new historical epic, The Evening and the Morning, published Fall 2020, and which is a prequel to his all-time best-selling book, The Pillars of the Earth. The 950 pages passed so quickly as I became wrapped up in this tale of 10th and 11th century-England, struggling to overcome and recover from Viking raids and former conquest. Really strong female and male characters were a great plus here. Also, just so you know, the hardcover was a joy to read, with extra leading between each line and a very readable font. 

Alas, I had to set aside Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, the third book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, a book of about 868 pages or so.  I loved the first two books!  I so badly want to read it, but in the first difficult! 80 pages, many, many male characters (nobility, mostly) are presented and are important, but, I'm sorry to say this, I felt there was no attempt to characterize this large group of men as individuals. I found it impossible to distinguish one noble from another. And they were, in historical reality, individuals. So why is that?? It drove me bonkers, especially so, because I wanted so badly to read the end of this trilogy. Sigh. I will try again, probably this summer. But Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies were top-flight!

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Day of Hope

 Sandy and I scurried through our woods hike in the snow early this morning. She would have liked to remain hiking, but I knew an hour was all we could spare if we were to be back in time to watch the very beginnings of all the inaugural activities. And we made it, and Ken and I watched enraptured for at least three hours. The first hour I could not stop my tears. I am and was so surprised by how overwhelmed with emotion I was to see such a man and such a woman rise up to govern our country. And it was so clear how humble they both were, how they only wish to do good for others, how it is so NOT about them personally. I could not stop the tears of gratitude and joy. What a day of boundless hope! May they stay safe and healthy and strong! Today everything buoyed me up, after so many days of waking in the morning filled with despair.

I retired in the late afternoon to continue reading my latest novel, Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton. Kinsey Milhone always sets me straight. I'm a third of the way through at this point, and am enjoying being back in Santa Teresa (really Santa Barbara, California), but even more so being back in Kinsey's company and in her struggles. 

I'm also listening to James Comey's new book: Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency, and Trust, which details more cases from his past as a federal prosecutor and what it takes to get it right, and how so often it can go wrong. I'm onto this one because I thought his first book was stellar. I had to find out more about what he has to say.


Friday, January 15, 2021

2020 An All-Time Reading Record for Me: Whither 2021?a

 I was positively flabbergasted that I read 76 books in 2020. I know why it happened, of course. Because every day by 1:30 pm-2pm, I was in my reading nook knitting to an audiobook or reading a hardcover or e-book. I tended to listen to an audiobook for part of the afternoon and then I read a book for the other part. It was how I survived 2020. I read some great, unforgettable books, for which I am so grateful. 

I'd love to spend some time highlighting the titles that really stood out among all the rest. But I'm one of those people who is always looking forward and going forward onto the NEXT THING. 



So, I'm glad to report that I have thoroughly connected with the new 2021 novel The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly (Kelley?). This is a novel about an extraordinary garden: most particularly about a property in Warwickshire, from 1907 to the present, and its huge garden with many "rooms" and how it evolved, most especially through the lives and designs of many women! If you are crazy about English gardens and how they evolve through history, then I think you will love this novel. I am so thankful to have connected with it at a time when I have been having an impossible time connecting with any book whatsoever. I'm halfway through and am really enjoying it!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

DISGUSTED: The Only Word for Today's Events

Note to Blog Readers: If you are angered by today's events, you may read on and feel in a like mind. If you are not. PLEASE TUNE IN ON ANOTHER DAY!!! I will welcome you later.

I'll keep this brief. Trump protesters have shouted for WEEKS that they would STORM the U.S. Capitol Building. Yet, lo and behold, no law enforcement agency was prepared AND most of them NOT under Trump's thumb!! This is the really scandalous part of this entire invasion. 

The U.S. Capitol Police were IMPOTENT against the onslaught of ultra-right wing protesters. Video shows them standing, jaws agape, watching as protestors broke through the doors into the Capitol. There had been talk about the need to lock the doors of the Capitol. Yet this was not done. WHAT???

I'm not going to belabor this. You've heard it all. What gets me: These Fascist protesters, The PROUD BOYS and others have DECLARED FOR WEEKS that they would breach the Capitol. So really, really, why were all federal policing units stupefied, with their mouths hanging open??? The U.S. Capitol Police, I believe, are under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. 

Where was the FBI DIRECTOR?

Where was the Head of Homeland Security?? (Charged w. Domestic Terrorism)

BUT don't you wonder??? Why didn't the FBI, who has been following the activities of the Proud Boys and other militant, violent fascist groups, why didn't they coordinate with other groups of federal law enforcement?

I'm sorry if this offends: I am DISGUSTED by the federal government's inability to protect the Capitol when the WRITING HAS BEEN ON THE WALL FOR WEEKS!!! Heads will roll. I don't know when I have been more angry, I really don't. And I will not apologize for my anger, readers. I won't.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

New Reads Off the Shelves for the New Year

 As I'd hoped, I browsed my bookshelves and book stacks and piles today. I'm so glad I picked up a book from one of my all-time favorite authors, Paul Auster. Somehow or other I purchased A Winter Journal back in 2012, but never read it. And what a wonder it is! Pieces of memoir, yes, and reflections on singular moments in his life, all through his life--though not linear. He makes his personal your personal. This afternoon I fell in love with his writing all over again...wondering how does he do it? How does he make the personal in his life speak directly to me in my life? WOW!! I have always considered Paul Auster one of my favorite authors of all time, but haven't read anything by him in the past 7 years. I'm fixing that! It's true he's only written one novel in this time, but I've ordered it from the library. Title:  4 3 2 1.